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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



The Ostentatious Evolution Of Culture

David Jon Peckinpaugh

The White settlers ought not to have condemned the Shoshone for living in brush shelters. They should have instead applauded the Shoshone for having had the intelligence not to be tempted by anything so ostentatious, yet so useless to their culture, as a house.
~~Peter Farb [1]

When we consider this matter of evolution, we have to bear in mind the many often conflicting and contradictory conceptions that arise in the minds of those who are struck by this word. Do we mean progress? By evolution do we mean the strict scientific definition: the capacity for adaptation of a species to its surrounding environment? Or by evolution do we mean simply the growth and maturity of a species over time?

Do we mean to point to increasing complexity as designating the presence of the spirit of evolution? Or do we mean something spiritual when we mention the word evolution?

The strictly scientific definition of evolution is related to the capacity exhibited by various beings to successfully adapt to their surrounding environment, i.e., to change in such away that environmental pressures are not found to be so overwhelming as to lead to extinction. According to this definition we should read into that there is nothing overtly spiritual about the process of evolution. This, however, does not bar numerous voices from conflating spirituality with evolution—which often has the result of leading to a mounting confusion pertaining to both.

To refresh, in brief, we ought to bear in mind that Darwin's theory of evolution was related to his own understanding of the capacity of various species to adapt to their surrounding environments; and do so in such a way that species are better able to meet the nutritional and reproductive requirements that make the further descent of that species possible.

Darwin saw change in the Galapagos Islands. There were slight differences—variations in and amongst species. These differences were seen as potentially providing a species with a certain advantage in a) securing habitat, b) meeting nutritional demands, and c) reproducing successfully.

Securing territory—whether physical or metaphysical, material or ideal—is certainly not an overtly spiritual practice. The kinds of warring, strong-arm tactics that are required in order to secure habitat might even be considered as the antithesis of authentic spirituality. However, this has not prevented numerous persons from co-opting the term 'evolution' and then attaching all sorts of spiritual and religious connotation to it.

When we look dispassionately at the various elements of Darwin's theory of evolution it is hard to see where the spiritual elements fit in. Certainly there is somewhat of an aesthetic dimension—as evidenced in the tail-feathers of a Peacock, for instance. Yet this beauty, we are told, is used for purposes of intimidation against rivals. It is also used for purposes of seduction and allurement—in other words, it is a method for gaining an advantage over others. As such, this form of beauty really has little to do with honouring the intrinsic equality of all beings under God.

Acquiring an advantage over rivals is perhaps a good way of indicating what exactly the theory of evolution is related to. Change, and successful change at that, is the essence of the evolutionary concern. This doesn't mean simply change for the sake of change, but change for the sake of securing some form of advantage, both in an inter-species (across species) and intra-species (within species) way.

What can we really say is particularly 'spiritual' about acquiring an advantage over others? Is setting ourselves apart in some special way what spirituality is all about? Is this what the sacred texts and scriptures point to? Is this what is found in the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tao-te-Ching, numerous Sutras of Buddhist lineage, the Gospels, the Talmud, the Quran? Are we told of all the ways we can make ourselves 'stand out' so that we secure more functional habitat for ourselves, increasing nutritional stores, and more reproductive partners (apparently these are all points that certain cult-like figureheads have agreed upon, whether they are a small-scale David Koresh or a Jim Jones, or a large-scale Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin).

We honestly don't see any recommendation for acquiring a surplus, and then using that surplus in order to leverage ourselves an existential-material advantage over others—whether these 'others' are within our own species or not. There is no recommendations in the sacred literature—none that I have found in and amongst the most pristine texts, whether these are Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Gnostic, Jewish, Muslim, or Taoist.

Actually, one finds the opposite recommendation—an anti-evolutionary imperative, if you will. The descriptions of states of consciousness and the recommendations for the embodiment of these states in the social-world are to not consciously seek to acquire and/or accrue an advantage over others in any material way. Jesus tells his disciples to give away all that they possess if they wish to follow Him. The young prince Siddhartha—the Buddha-to-be—departs in the middle of the night from the palatial grounds he had known all his life, in order to go in search of an answer to this question of humanity's suffering. Time and again we see the Sages and the Prophets foregoing the opulence and luxury—the material advantages—that might be said to accumulate with one's successful adaptation to the surrounding environment. There is, in all honesty, no record whatsoever that would indicate that Darwin's theory of evolution—in the strict sense of being a natural science—is in anyway applicable to matters that have traditionally been deemed spiritual and/or religious. In fact, as made evident here, the ongoing record of the Saints and Sages, Mystics and Prophets, Avatars and Gurus—across the reach of time and the spans of geography and culture alike—is a chorus established in what can be heard as being a profoundly anti-evolutionary stance.

That chorus goes something like this:

Do not seek for an advantage over others. However, if you have been blessed by God Almighty with what may be seen as some kind of advantage—a natural gift or talent of some sort—then use that advantage for the benefit of others, and not for the benefit one one's self and one's closest and most intimate relations.

This well established record—this ages long historical process of God's Ongoing Revelation to Humanity—is unquestionably anti-evolutionary. The Buddha and Darwin's theory of evolution cannot share the same bed.

He who has realized the Truth, Nirvana, is the happiest being in the world… He gains nothing, accumulates nothing, not even anything spiritual, because he is free from the illusion of self, and the 'thirst' for becoming.[2]
~~Walpola Rahula

Nothing to gain? Nothing to accumulate? Not even anything spiritual? Man, that don't sound nothing like evolution baby!

The Buddha actually spoke of ends—or, should I say, THE END? Even the metaphors that the Buddha employed in his discourses were metaphors that suggested such things as extinction, e.g., nirvana as the 'blowing out of a flame.'

And yet the irony in noticing the proliferation of titles that attempt to tie not just evolution and spirituality together, but evolution and Buddhism, is to me just a bit alarming. Given what we know the Buddha is reported as saying, we have to reason that the Buddha was not indicating the 'evolution of humanity,' nor was he referring to the 'further development of a species.' The Buddha was referring to the end of spurious notions—that is, the cessation of a people's hopes and dreams, well-intentioned as they often are.

Some, however, might point out that the Buddha was missing some vital information. Ken Wilber has made the argument that the Buddha did not have available to him all the latest experimental evidence and clinical data supplied by the developmental psychologists of the last century or so. Given this caveat it is concerned presumptuous to take the Buddha at his word and presume that the Dharma, as disclosed by Guatama is the final truth. This is often the rationale that many who consider themselves Buddhist—or at the very least, sympathizers of the Buddha—use in making their arguments for 'progressive social policies' and greater 'worldly involvement.' In other words, there is yet this rationale that still exists in echoing the vital need for further evolution i.e., of continued and further development, of progress, of growth, of, dare I say it, the need for some better brand of becoming.

Yet, is this not a form of 'thirst?' A thirst for things spiritual? A thirst that manifests as a plan or scheme of some sort—good-intentioned as it is? That we are going to improve the world. That we are going to institute social policies and liberal agendas. That we have a plan for improving people's lives.

Improving people's lives? Isn't that the promise of Civilization—to improve the quality of life for people who live under the jurisdiction of Civilization? Furthermore, isn't that what Secularity promises as well: effective modern antidotes to many of the ancient ills that the religious and spiritual world-views were largely unable to deal with?

Evolution baby! That's what it's all about! Each and every day we are getting better and better in every way.

Evolutionary science wedded with spirituality and religious concerns has tended—in my estimation—to take on highly idealistic overtones. One might even say that such a coupling resembles a romance. In short order—and please bear in mind that collectively speaking, we are still in the infancy of this romantic liaison between evolution and spirituality—the affair will seem to offer us the best of all possible worlds. There is this noticeable 'high' that comes with such romances. Like a naïve young man and woman, evolution and spirituality initially seem to be this match made in Heaven. 'You are meant for me. I am meant for you. And nothing will ever tear us apart.' Ooohhh… the follies of youth!

Peter Farb, commenting on the Indigenous understanding of romance:

The Shoshone, as well as those peoples around the world who still survive at the least complex levels of social organization, know that romantic love exists. But they also recognize it for what it is—in their case, a form of madness… Most people in simple societies joke about the carryings-on of youngsters enmeshed in romantic love; they regard the participants with tolerance and patience, for they know that the illness will soon go away. [3]

Farb goes on to humourously state that a young person suffering from the powerful pull of romantic love is treated 'with all the tolerance we devote to a retarded person in our society.' Romance is seen as being a form of delusion from the Indigenous perspective. Or, at the very least, it makes those who are otherwise not so 'mentally challenged' extremely so for as long as the madness is said to last.

Does this mean that I am implying that the attempt to unite traditional forms of spirituality with a hodge-podge of elements borrowed from evolutionary science, ala Darwin, is a form of delusion, not unlike the butterfly-effect of romantic feelings? In brief, the answer is, 'Yes.' I honestly do feel that there are serious 'mental challenges' in the attempt to unite 1) a theory that describes the growth, development, change, and adaptation of organisms, with 2) an ongoing Revelation to Humanity from the Divine, the Numinous, the Transcendent—which occurs through the Saints, Sages, Mystics, and Prophets of God—that there is an END… that this will all be over soon… that becoming anything or anyone is but to take a strange trip to nowhere; a trip that results in the attainment of no 'thing' whatsoever, as all becoming is little more than the act of a dog chasing its own tail (though the dog knows it not).

What we have is the thirst for becoming, ala Evolution—which is the desire for change, adaptation, growth, development, acquisition, accumulation, and in the East, what is called 'rebirth'—over and against the cessation of all such becoming, ala Enlightenment. The attempted unification of these two diametrically opposed principles is much of what the spiritual scene has come to be about. This is perhaps why there is such any easy reconciliation between psychology and psychoanalysis on the one hand, and the efforts within the contemporary spiritual scene to unify Evolution with Enlightenment. After all, psychology also is riddled with the language of growth and development, adaptation and change. It is really an easy fit. It seems natural.

Perhaps it even is natural for psychology and psychoanalysis to borrow many of the concepts of Darwin's theory of evolution and use these to better understand the apparent growth and development of not just individuals but groups as a whole. This natural and easy relation between psychology and psychoanalysis on the one hand, and evolutionary theory on the other, well, this is not in question. What is in question, and open to much debate, is this latest romantic liaison between the 'theory of evolution' and the timeless spiritual truths and principles as revealed to Humanity through the Prophets, Mystics, Saints, and Sages: that this is a romance—like most—which appears to be IT, but which may only be the fleeting 'high' of two bodies temporarily lost in each other.

When a romance is still young and fresh there is still relatively little known about one another. Here is a vacuum for idealization to take over. Positive transferences reign supreme, as the 'other' is inflated out of all proportion to reality.

The subjective frame of reference in the early stages of a romantic liaison makes it seem to us as if this 'other' fills us completely. Every hole in us is now occupied with the 'perfect fit' of our new beloved. We are made whole. Again, all the incompletenesses in us are filled through the fruits of this affair.

This is much what is implied by those who seek to flesh out a more 'perfect union.' The implication is that Enlightenment is not complete without and apart from Evolution—all of which, no doubt, would be news to the Buddha and damn near each and every historically recorded Saint or Sage who has ever walked this Earth, with few rare exceptions, such as Aurobindo. Still, if our sense is that Enlightenment is not fully made complete and whole apart from Evolution (which may have more to do with the one making such a claim—that is, the one making the claim is not completely Enlightened, so they try to implicate the need for the theory of evolution to be united with the Timeless Truth that is Enlightenment, as a way of confessing, to paraphrase Christ, that their own eye is not yet one), then we will sincerely feel the necessity of uniting these two as a way of making them more complete.

As you can probably gather, I am not of the impression that Enlightenment is somehow insufficient and in need of a desperate union with a theory we call evolution. In fact, I think the insinuation of the theory of evolution into the proceedings of Enlightenment can easily serve to create needless meandering and unnecessary confusion: for evolution implies a 'path of progress' or 'movement of change' towards a goal that does not exist as any sort of object that can be sought. In this way, the whole intermarriage of Evolution with Enlightenment—rather than making Enlightenment more immediate and transparent, i.e., readily accessible to each and all—is made all that much more distant and removed.

How so? Specifically, the implications of the theory evolution have to do with change over time—adaptation, growth, development, etc. and so forth. This theory creates a spirit of seeking for states 'more evolved' than the one that we presume we are presently at. We create an 'object' out of Enlightenment. This 'object' however is a mere chimera. It is false. It does not exist. It is merely a re-presentation of Enlightenment that is generated conceptually. The Self simply cannot be objectified in that way. It is an impossibility.[4] This is essentially the reason why the Realization of the Self that Alone Is cannot occur through the unification of the subject with an object—even one called 'Enlightenment.' After all, that object has been generated by the Self-alienated subject to begin with (even though the Self-alienated subject hardly ever realizes this as being so)!

Stating this same general point, albeit in a different manner, we could say that coupling the theory of evolution with the Timeless Truth of Enlightenment creates an almost impossible situation for the serious seeker. 1) it implies a path towards a goal that is not really 'there;' 2) it makes it seem as if there are many, many steps to take before we can actually arrive 'there;' 3) in the same vein, it posits the Ultimate as lying at the end of the evolutionary road—which makes it seem that we have along ways to go before we 'get there': we both a) have a long distance to cover (a lot of space to cross), and b) have to endure many years before we finally arrive.

Unfortunately there is no change involved with Enlightenment. This is where a serious difficulty arises for those who try and marry change with the Changeless, birth and death with the Unborn: we simply are not able to change ourselves into the Changeless… or birth ourselves into the Unborn. A new state is not involved. There are no conditions that we have to bring about. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. All of which makes this whole charade of 'evolutionary enlightenment' about as far removed from the Traditional Understanding of Enlightenment—as historically recorded by the likes of a Ramana Maharishi, a Nisargadatta Maharaj, a Buddha and a Christ—as one can get.

The impression I am left with is that in attempting to create a systematic unification out of the theory of evolution, coupled together with the Timeless Truths of Enlightenment—as realized within one's own Primordial Awareness, together with the record left behind by the Saints, Mystics, Prophets, and Sages of the recent and distant past—generates little more than confusion between two diametrically opposed views that are fundamentally irreconcilable:

  • View one: a theory—the theory of evolution—based upon the principles of becoming. Change is involved. Adaptation is noted. Development is prized.
  • View two: a discovery—the disclosure of Enlightenment—as the result of the cessation of all becoming. No change is involved. Adaptation is irrelevant. Growth is no more. Resting in That… as That… inherently so.

The first view only has merit in terms of exhausting us in our search. Change can never culminate in the changeless. Novelty and birth can never result in attaining the Unborn. The first view, therefore, must be seen as futile in providing us with the solutions that we seek. There is no answer there. There is no rest in evolution. There is but the infinity of samsara: the endless horizon of becoming and rebirth that the Buddha realized was not freedom, but the essence and epitome of bondage itself.

A Return To Radicalism

There can be little question that the historical Buddha, Guatama, was truly radical in his approach to human existence. Imagine, for instance, a son of this era's aristocracy renouncing his or her royalty and then going to live in a forest, remaining essentially a beggar for the rest of his or her adult life. Imagine George W. Bush doing such a thing. Imagine Prince William of England doing such a thing. Either case would be an exact equivalent of what Siddhartha—the Buddha-to-be—accomplished in his day and age.

When we speak of the Buddha—of Buddhism (or even of Jesus and Christianity for that matter!)—we have to remember and bear in mind that these were not your ordinary citizens in the conventional sense. These were revolutionaries who pushed the envelope of what was considered acceptable human behaviour. These were truly radical spirits incarnate in human form for a distinct purpose, what Hindus have referred to as Avatars—incarnations of God in human form for the purpose of an Ongoing Revelation of the Truth to Humanity.

The Buddha left his whole family. He stole out in the middle of the night. He escaped from a life of comfort and luxury. He escaped—get this—from the sort of life that the majourity of the world's population might consider ideal; the type of life most would consider as highly desirable, hence the type of life to be sought after. That is just how radical the Buddha actually was. That is how pressing was the deep concern he felt upon witnessing suffering, old age, and death for the first time. It resulted in a near total transformation of his person. He simply could not be who he had come to be any longer. Even to the point of his being considered a 'dead-beat dad.' If that is what was required, then so be it.

Siddhartha's concern was total. He was not just concerned for his son any longer, but for each and every living being. The Buddha-to-be was in a life-and-death struggle for answers to the questions posed by suffering, sickness, old age, and death. As such, the former prince's departure was not so much about him deserting his family—a wife and child—as it was about him stepping up to the much greater challenge of assuming his role as a Bodhisattva for the masses.

A Historical Beacon for generations to come: this was the former prince's destiny; this was Siddhartha's fate. Not to be remembered as yet another man who walked out on his wife and kid, but as one who divined the Gist of the human predicament, along with a manner of escape from that predicament. Besides, it has been widely reported that his son later came to be a monk when he was of age; that he too took up the Dharma and lived with his father up until his father—now the Buddha—passed somewhere around the age of 80.

I suspect that we need to ask what manner of suffering would have resulted if Siddhartha had been led into staying with his family, perhaps out of some sense of moral and/or familial obligation. Millions upon millions of persons that followed would have lost a Shining Beacon of real Hope and Humanity. After all, here we are 2,500 years after the facts being discussed and the Buddha is still lighting a Path of Liberation and Peace for others to follow. Here we are 2, 500 years after the fact and according to all reports Buddhism is the only majour World Religion not to be involved in the fighting of a majour War. This is something that cannot be said for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or even Hinduism.

Of course, some would suggest that it is because of the extremely pacifistic nature of Buddhism that there have been no majour world conflicts explicitly involving Buddhism. This would be correct to suppose this as being the case. However, some would tend to see this as a fault and a weakness on the part of Buddhism: that Buddhists just don't care enough about anything in order to stand up for anything, therefore, to engage in conflict over a matter of values. In other words, Buddhists don't give a damn enough to fight for what they believe in! They are too passive, too disinterested, too removed from the conflicts; conflicts wherein the future of the Earth is contested so hotly, by so many diverse and disparate special interest groups.

Yeah, that's the problem with those Buddhists—they just don't know enough to know when to fight! They don't care enough to kill when their values are not being upheld by others. They just roll over and play dead. They just sit there. Just sit there and do nothing. Damn Buddhists!

'The main advantage of Christianity over Buddhism,' wrote the late German-American philosopher Paul Carus, 'consists in the activity which it inspires. Buddhism has to a great extent (with the exception, perhaps, of some Japanese sects) favoured a passive attitude to life.'[5]

Of course, one better not connect this 'passive attitude to life' with Buddhism's world-renowned position as the only majour World Religion not to be directly involved in a majour global conflict of one sort or another. I suspect that the late Mr. Carus's assumption is not unlike the assumption held by many under the sway of Civilization & Secularity: that it is inherently better to be active in life than passive, i.e., that action is a good.

The interesting discovery that the Buddha made—and not just the Buddha mind you—is that action can have detrimental consequences unforeseen and unforeseeable by those who have become habituated to action for action's sake, i.e., in those who profess to the motto, 'Do something for Christ's sake!' Action can literally get us into a world of trouble. Action can get the whole shebang rolling. Action can invoke an avalanche of consequences that one could not have possibly foreseen when one took so simple an action.

I am not deluded enough to suppose that a cautionary reminder of the potential devastating effects of our actions—even our good-intentioned ones—is going to result in millions, if not billions, of persons refraining from action for action's sake. I suspect that the momentum of habituated action under the aegis of Civilization & Secularity is so great at present (and the propaganda that positions us at the ready… always at the ready… is so pervasive as to pass for an absolute), that few will tend to see any merit in the more or less 'passive stance' that Buddhism tends to take in relation to the world. One can even see in recent decades an increasing emphasis upon a more 'socially engaged Buddhism;' one that tackles problems environmental and cultural, social and economic. This, in my estimation, borders on a perversion of Buddhism, and the Buddha-Dharma, which is both its heart and source.

Every indication is that the Buddha was minimally involved in the affairs of the world, so to speak. The reason for this 'social and cultural minimalism' is fairly apparent. Involvement in the affairs of the world only served to seek to bind one deeper and deeper into new ties and relations that carried new karma and generated all manner of contingencies that one could not have possibly foreseen.

The Buddha, in other words, was not a reformer. The Buddha was not about revolutionizing society. The Buddha was only about setting up an environment conducive for the purpose of liberation—a liberty that is realized as being contingent upon the cessation of becoming.

So it was not 'more action within the world' that the Buddha was encouraging as the essence of the Way. Quite to the contrary, it was a lessened involvement with the world. The authentically Buddhist stance, then, is very much one that is quite 'passive'—especially as seen from a perspective indebted to Civilization. This means that those accusations formed against Buddhism, when Buddhism first came to the awareness of Europeans and Americans, is totally accurate. The only difference is that what is seen as being a 'negative quality' by those biased towards action for action's sake, is, by those intimately familiar with the Buddha-Dharma, realized as being a wholly beneficial quality for one to increasingly come to typify. For it is that 'negative quality of increasing passivity' that has resulted in Buddhism being the True Practice of Peace—not just in word… but in deed as well.

Undoubtedly we are a people of action. Therefore, in terms of Civilization, passivity is going to always be seen as a fault… a weakness… a defect.

Most people assume that the members of the Shoshone band worked tirelessly in an unremitting search for sustenance. Such a dramatic picture might appear confirmed by an erroneous theory many of us recall from our schooldays: A high culture emerges only when the people have the leisure to build pyramids or create art. The fact is that complex civilization is hectic, and that such hunters and collectors of wild food as the Shoshone are among the most leisured people on earth.[6]

Peter Farb's commentary on 'civilization and simplicity'—antithetical terms if there ever were such!—deserves a far more substantial mention here. His statement that the truth is, 'The more simple the society, the more leisured its way of life,' would appear to go against the grain of thought we have been led to believe by virtue of the incessant 'spin' that the civilized put on their own way of life. The 'erroneous theory many of us recall' is that increasing Civilization leads to increasing leisure. But for whom exactly is this increasing leisure destined? For the few, that's who! The relatively few that do experience a life of increasing leisure and comfort and wealth and privilege is paid for by the many, with much sacrifice and toil and labour. This is just the way it is. Period.

This is unarguable: that in order for a select few to appear to have a life of leisure and comfort and wealth and privilege someone else—actually many someone else's—must pick up the slack.

The surpluses that are accumulated and acquired—in terms of Civilization, mind you—are accumulated and acquired at the expense of someone else's opportunity for leisure. This is what an 'increasingly complex Civilization' will tend exhibit: an appearance of opportunities for a life of leisure for the masses where no such opportunities actually exist. This is because those who do possess the opportunity for a life of leisure—within the parameters set up by a complex Civilization—cannot afford to have leisure become a wide-spread opportunity for the masses. Again, because if the masses were given such an opportunity the relatively privileged few would suddenly lose much of the surplus that for them is this life of wealth and seeming privilege. In other words, as Civilization stands there is a vested interest in keeping the under-privileged exactly where they are.

If you can keep people barely hanging on—just giving them enough to get by—then you have set up a situation where they cannot help but literally work for your continued gain. As Karl Marx put the situation in his day, the capitalists (the corporate interests) profit from the labour of the workers, and do so while not adding even a single iota of additional value to the actual commodities and services that are produced and delivered. In other words, the workers do not receive the actual full value of their labour; in fact, most of the value of their labour goes elsewhere—to corporate interests, to the capitalists, to the funny money economy we live with day after stinkin' day.

The truth is that for the majourity of the world's population—both human and non-human alike—life under the aegis of Civilization is but one stinkin' day after another. This theory that Civilization—that is, the increasing complexity of Civilization—will result in a virtual mass utopia in due time is perhaps the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the human species.

Again and again we have heard the promises coming out of the offices where the greatest spin is time and time again spun: We just have to work harder. We just have to be a little smarter. We just have to pay our dues. We just have to wait for another politician to get into office… and oh yes, this time the policies will work in the favour of the majourity. So just wait. Just be patient. Just keep plugging away.

But the promises are never delivered and we wonder why the politicians can't come through for the larger lot of us. We wonder why it could be so hard for a politician to live up to his or her word. And I say to you that the reason no politician can live up to his or her word is because the fundamental psycho-dynamics of Civilization are biased (flawed is another word that could be used here) in such a way that no politician can really address the needs of the majourity. As such, the best we can get from our politicians is the servicing of one 'special interest group' or another. And if we are not a part of a 'special interest group'—if we are just Human, all too Human—well, then we are quite simply fucked!

No politician can even serve the interests of our Humanity, because the 'framing conditions' of Civilization & Secularity does not allow for that possibility. Little wonder then that the majourity are left feeling alienated and disenfranchised. Civilization has created such an alienated and disenfranchised populace. Yet no wants to look the Beast in the eye and call it for what it is. Or, should I say, few want to state the obvious: that Civilization has not delivered the goods; and that quite possibly Civilization cannot do so given the fundamental psycho-dynamics upon which the ongoing operations of Civilization are based—where the persistent dislocation and displacement of both human and non-human populations alike, as well as natural resources, creates a situation where the majourity are left to wander the Planet in a state of ongoing exile. That is what Civilization does: it creates mass exile; an all-species inclusive Diaspora; a lost tribe everywhere you look.

The irony is that Civilization is supposed to be a movement away from dukkha—away from suffering. Strange indeed, then, that Civilization could come to be such a mirror of its own chosen enemy. Stranger even that Civilization could come to be such an amplifier of dukkha: intensifying the suffering for innumerable species across the board—human and non-human alike. That is, right there, a contradiction that needs to be addressed and faced—and quite directly I might add. I personally feel that it is a contradiction that people everywhere feel deep inside of them. It is a contradiction that haunts us: that these voices of/for Civilization & Secularity—as these constantly offer up one promise after another—could leave us… the vast majourity of living beings… feeling so wanting, so bereft, so torn-up inside. On the one hand we so deeply want to believe that the 'spin-doctors of Civilization' are telling us the truth: that we can expect 'wide ranging improvements' in both our conditions and circumstances very, very soon. And yet, on the other hand, we have been prey to so many broken-promises already that we don't want to be made a sucker yet again.

So we are more or less caught up in the web of contradictions that happens to be Civilization: the promise of a life of leisure and comfort, ease and prosperity, over and against the reality of unending toil and discontent, emptiness and ennui.

For the majourity the work-day is now longer than we were initially promised. The life of leisure once guaranteed as a 'sure thing' is nowhere to be found. Things are more complex than ever before. According to the late Peter Farb, this is just what we should expect—and what we might do well to be warned about—that an increasingly complex Civilization will erode the opportunity to practice the Dharma. That the 'blessed human life of leisure' is not so much the opportunity to take up the Path of Liberation as it once was… and perhaps one day will be again, when Civilization as we know it is over once and for all.[7]


[1] Farb, Peter, Man's Rise To Civilization (rev. 2nd edition), New York: NY, E. P. Dutton, 1978. The Shoshone lived in the Great Basin region of the American West: Utah, parts of Wyoming and Idaho, as well as Nevada. Along with the Ute they lived in territory now occupied by the Mormon—who, from my experience, have come to epitomize, and perhaps like no other people, the 'upwardly-mobile' life of ostentatiousness that Civilization queerly holds as humanity's highest hope and aspiration. If you have ever been in the heart of Mormon country, then you know of what I speak: namely, that the Mormons seem to have this way of making the yuppies of the 1980's and 90's look like a bunch of slackers.

[2] Rahula, Walpola, What The Buddha Taught, New York: NY, Grove Press, 1959.

[3] Farb, Peter, (prev. cited, 1978).

[4] Bear in mind here Hegel's interpretation of the history of the world as the ongoing 'self-alienation of the Absolute Subject,' the Self. That the Absolute Spirit is self-alienated through the process of the objectification of Its own Essence as the world.

[5] As taken from The American Encounter With Buddhism, 1844-1912, Tweed, Thomas A., Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

[6] Farb, Peter, (prev. cited, 1978).

[7] One of the foremost, preliminary Tibetan Buddhist practices consists of 'pondering the difficulty of obtaining a human life of leisure.' It is leisure that gives us the opportunity to practice the Dharma. This is why I put forth the contention that an increasingly complex Civilization—which, remember, unlike a simpler society, is equated with a loss of leisure—will tend to undermine opportunities for effectively practicing the Dharma as disclosed by the Buddha and his subsequent followers.

David Jon Peckinpaugh is the authour of the recently released Buddha & Shakespeare: Eastern Dharma, Western Drama, as well as the titles Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education (2002); and Framing the Postmodern: Language, Culture, Commerce, Consciousness (2000).

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